The danger of smoking cigarettes during pregnancy is real.
Cigarettes can have negative impacts on the mother and the unborn child - exposure to smoke and other chemicals can make it harder to conceive, and can cause a host of health challenges from miscarriage to low birth weight to brain and lung damage.
The best time to quit smoking is before you get pregnant, as your health will start to improve immediately after giving up cigarettes.
Your circulation and oxygenation will improve within two weeks of giving up cigarettes, fertility can improve within about three months, and after a year, you’ll experience significant improvements in lung capacity and function.
The second-best time to give up cigarettes is as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. According to the Mayo Clinic, quitting in the first fifteen weeks of pregnancy provides the greatest benefits for your baby, and quitting before your third trimester can eliminate much of the potential impact on your baby’s birth weight.
The Dangers of Smoking Cigarettes Before and During Pregnancy
Smoking can make it harder for women to get and stay pregnant in the first place.
As you might recall from your high school health class, while men can develop new sperm for most of their reproductive lives, women are born with all of the eggs they’ll ever have. Research has shown that smoking can destroy eggs - and once they’re gone, those eggs can’t be replaced or regenerated over time.
Here’s another one, ladies: female smokers often hit menopause earlier than women who don’t smoke.
Smoking can also prevent the success of pricey procedures like IVF - one study showed that “if a woman smokes in her lifetime, failure to conceive with assisted reproductive therapies doubled. And the longer a woman smoked, the greater the failure rate for assisted reproductive therapies, increasing as much as 9% per year of previous smoking.”
If you can get pregnant while smoking cigarettes, there are still many other risks throughout pregnancy.
Smoking during pregnancy allows many of the 7,000 chemicals found in cigarettes - such as nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar, and formaldehyde - to pass through the placenta and umbilical co. It can lessen the amount of oxygen that a baby gets while in utero, leading to a variety of problems, including:
- a higher risk of miscarriage
- premature birth
- brain and lung damage
- sudden infant death syndrome
- other congenital disabilities
Exposure to secondhand smoke can also cause medical problems for children that can last throughout their lives.
Using Nicotine Replacement Therapies During Pregnancy
Nicotine replacement therapies are generally a good option for cutting back on smoking cigarettes. However, quitting smoking during pregnancy is a bit more complicated, because the results are not as overwhelmingly positive.
On the one hand, the fetus isn’t exposed to toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke. On the other hand, nicotine is still dangerous to fetuses. Studies in animals have found that nicotine can cause problems in the developing brain. Children exposed to nicotine in utero can be at higher risk for ADHD, learning disabilities, or conduct issues as they grow up.
One study found that women who use nicotine gum as a smoking cessation tool during pregnancy could reduce the number of cigarettes they smoked each day. Their children had higher birth weights and gestational ages than women who used a placebo.
Some scientists believe that nicotine gum or lozenges might be more effective and safer than nicotine patches for those who want to cut back on smoking during pregnancy. This is because nicotine patches provide a solid and continuous stream of nicotine - nicotine patches can contain 15-22 milligrams of nicotine, which can be the equivalent of smoking 17 cigarettes daily. In contrast, nicotine gum and lozenges contain smaller concentrations of nicotine (2-4 mg per piece of gum), and release it only on an intermittent basis. But any nicotine replacement product is better than cigarettes.
“It’s much better that [an expectant mother] takes nicotine instead of all the other smoke products, because they’re going to cause lung cancer and other things,” says Ted Slotkin, a professor of pharmacology at Duke University. “But the best option is no nicotine at all.”
My partner smokes. Will that impact my pregnancy?
Unfortunately, yes. Smoking can also have significant negative impacts on male fertility - particularly sperm count and sperm quality, and can lead to erectile dysfunction - all of which can make it harder for women to conceive. Smoking can also affect the DNA of a sperm, and there is evidence that this can lead to preterm birth defects or even miscarriage.
In addition, recent studies have shown that second-hand smoke from non-pregnant partners can affect both pregnant women and their unborn children - even before a woman becomes pregnant. One study from 2019 suggests that “compared to babies whose parents didn’t smoke, babies of fathers who smoked when their mothers were pregnant had a 74% higher risk of heart defects at birth.” Another study found higher rates of miscarriage among women who were exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy, even if she didn’t smoke herself.
Research also shows that men should quit smoking at least three months before their partner tries to conceive, giving enough time for healthy sperm to develop.
In addition, both partners should refrain from smoking for the duration of the pregnancy (and beyond, of course) to prevent exposure to secondhand smoke that can lead to various health issues for both the mother and the baby.
I’m thinking about getting pregnant. What should I do?
The overwhelming research shows that smoking during pregnancy is dangerous to both mother and child. The further in advance of conceiving you quit smoking, the more likely you are to have a healthy pregnancy.
Because not much research is out there about the effects of different smoking cessation products on pregnancy, talk to your doctor about the best method for you. That said, some studies have shown that products like nicotine gum have a more significant benefit to the mother than a risk to the fetus.
If you’re looking to cut back on smoking before getting pregnant, give them a try and let us know what you think!
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should not be construed as a substitute for, professional medical or health advice on any subject matter. Please consult your physician regarding any medical treatment decisions.